If his actions can match his words, Winston could be in for a big season. It’s easy to overlook that in his final season with the Bucs he threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns. It was the eighth-most passing yards in a single season in league history. It’s also easy to overlook that statistically his first five seasons compared favorably with previous greats, including Peyton Manning.
No one has ever questioned his ability to throw the football; it was his decision-making that consistently raised eyebrows. Payton knows this, and I believe he is the perfect coach to help in that area. Think back to two years ago, when Brees was out with a thumb injury and Payton turned to Teddy Bridgewater, who hadn’t started a game in nearly four years. New Orleans won in Seattle, 33-27, in Bridgewater’s first start, but Payton was visibly disturbed in the postgame press conference. He felt he had not adjusted his play-calling early on to best suit Bridgewater, who threw for just 177 yards.
He made a point of not making the same mistake going forward, which allowed Bridgewater to help the Saints go 5-0 in Brees’ absence. He did the same thing last season when Brees was out and Hill stepped in to start. Understanding that Hill’s strength was his mobility, he eased the QB into the offense by having him attempt a total of just 39 passes the first two games. He opened up the playbook the next two weeks, and Hill, sufficiently comfortable, responded with strong outings.
Expect Payton to do the same with Winston. He won’t give him more than he feels Winston (or Hill, if it winds up that way) is ready to handle.
“You start out that there’s a core to this offense and there are things that we’re going to do that we’ve done from the beginning since we’ve been here that we feel very comfortable with any of those guys running,” said offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. during a media conference call on Wednesday. “I know Sean talks about it often, with the group of guys that you have on the field, tailoring the designed scheme to what they do best.”
Only New England has had more top-five finishes in offensive scoring the past 10 seasons, with eight to New Orleans’ seven. Much of that is due to the talent on the field, but just as important is a coach knowing how to utilize that talent. For me, Winston makes the Saints a more dynamic offense than Hill does, if only because of the wild card element that comes with having Hill available in multiple roles.
“We’ve always tried to look closely at the strengths of our players, what they do well, and we’ll build a little bit around that player accordingly,” Payton told reporters earlier this week. “That’s something that we did when Drew first arrived here, and we would do with either these two players.”